Monday, October 27, 2008

zeal (running the race)

This post is all about running, and all about the Kingdom.

I wasn't exactly looking forward to the Fall Frolic - mostly looking forward to it being over. Training is hard. It takes a lot of time, and it doesn't always - scratch that, it doesn't very often at all - feel very good. I don't have a lot of experience with the "runner's high" yet. Not sure if I think it exists. So even though I've had some good training moments in the past few months - discovered that if I only ran a mile I could do so in ten minutes, wow! - overall I was tired of dragging myself out to the Riverside trail to buffet my body two or three times a week.

But race day is always fun, and the morning of the Fall Frolic was bright and crisp, and I was surrounded by friends. Until the gun went off to start the race. Then my friends sped ahead - they're really good runners - and I ambled along like a turtle with some other slow runners. OK, not a turtle, but kinda slow. Slow is OK right?

Slow is OK until everyone passes you. I mean everyone. By mile two, I had lost sight of all my fellow runners. I could hear the bicyclist about ten feet behind me, bringing up the rear of the 10K crowd, making sure no one got lost or collapsed. Finally I turned around and jogged backwards and asked him if he could just come up and bike parallel with me so at least I would have someone to talk to. Thank God for this guy, I mean literally, what a blessing he was to me. He humored me and kept talking for the next four miles, talking about his work, his family, the book that he wrote, Notre Dame sports, anything. I don't know if I could have finished the race without him.

So I did finish. Peter and Sarah and Daniel and Bridget all walked back from the finish line to run me in, and I finished at 1:15 or so - ten minutes faster than I'd run a 10K before!!! But still in last place. Then we hung out waiting for the awards to be passed out. Almost every one of my friends won a medal. Because they are great runners! And I was truly happy for them, but at the same time truly very sad to be so far behind them in skill, and to work so hard and improve so much and then still be so embarrassingly far behind everyone else in the whole race. Gosh, writing about it, I am still sad. Getting over it, but sad.

So anyway, prior to race day, I'd decided the Fall Frolic would definitely be the last race of the year for me. I was sick and tired of training. I just wanted to take my life back and wait until spring to run again. But ... I couldn't end the year with a race like this one. I couldn't just come in last and leave it at that.

So I'm back in training again. Granted, only for a short while - the next race is this weekend, only two weeks after the Frolic - and to be honest, my chances of coming in "not-last" are no better in this race. Probably worse, actually, because it's a very small run. But I just have to do it. It's a determination I haven't really felt before. I can't quit now, I have to keep trying to get better.

So here's the important part of this story. This weekend on the PoP women's retreat, we talked about zeal, and having zeal for building the Kingdom, and 1 Corinthians 9:24 was cited frequently - here it is in the Message translation:

"You've all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You're after one that's gold eternally. I don't know about you, but I'm running hard for the finish line. I'm giving it everything I've got. No sloppy living for me! I'm staying alert and in top condition. I'm not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself."

I joked throughout the weekend that it's not true that only one wins - it's actually several in each age category. Hahaha. But here's the thing - because I came in last (really really last) in the Fall Frolic, and because of this Scripture during the retreat, I understand now what "zeal" means. I didn't understand before, because I didn't have zeal when I was just discovering my own (minimal) ability to run, and thanking God for my body working, and enjoying doing something healthy, etc. That was all really good. But I never had this attitude of I am going to do better at this if it kills me. I am NOT satisfied being last and once I come in not-last, I will only be a little bit satisfied, because I -

(fingers frozen while I wonder if I am actually going to commit this to words)

- I am not really going to be satisfied until I win a medal. Which will probably be at least a couple years from now, and that's probably optimistic. But I am not hitting backspace right now, and the goal is out there for all of you to see, I will win a medal someday.

So what about the Kingdom?

If zeal for running causes me to set a foolish goal like winning a medal then I am almost afraid to see where zeal for Christ could take me. (Where it could take us. As a community.) But it's an exhilarating thought. I'm building the Kingdom at a pretty comfortable pace right now. What would it be like to build the Kingdom until it started to hurt? Until I couldn't breathe anymore? Until I started to feel dizzy? What would it be like to build the Kingdom until I was exhausted and then just keep going? What medals are out there to be won for the Kingdom? And what kind of training do I need to do to win them? A day or two after the Frolic I went to the library to get books on running and I pored over them, searching for ways to do better. Do I read Scripture like that - hungry for guidance, eager to follow what it says, anxious to get there and do it and see the results?

Psalm 69:9. "Zeal for your house consumes me."

Come, Lord Jesus!